The Last Song at the Last Supper: Psalm 118

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”

Mark 14:26

If you were about to die, what song would you sing?

After they ate the Passover meal together, Mark records that Jesus and the disciples sang together before going to the Mount of Olives where Jesus would be betrayed, arrested and given over to be crucified.

He knew the extent to which he would suffer.

That his friends would abandon him and betray him. That they would beat him. That they would mock him. That they would pierce him. That his lungs wouldn’t be able to exhale because of the weight of his own body. That the penalty for the sins of the world would be poured out upon him on the cross.

That he would die.

That he would rise again.

Knowing all of this, Jesus still went willingly, but not without sadness and the heaviness of the burden weighing on him. We read that at the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed that this cup be taken from him if there was any other way. We read of him sweating drops of blood under the stress of it. And we read of him getting up and walking away willingly with his accusers to his death.

But before these events would transpire, before the tomb, before the cross, before the arrest, Jesus sang with his friends after a meal.

What Song Did They Sing?

The Bible doesn’t specifically tell us this, but Jewish tradition from this time gives us a very likely candidate, and it’s beautiful.

In Jewish tradition, there is a set of Psalms referred to as the Hallel. The word comes from the Hebrew word for “praise” and is the same word that serves as the root for “hallelujah”. The Hallel is made up of Psalms 113-118 and is sung at all major Jewish holidays except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are more somber holidays.

During the Passover meal, Psalms 113-114 are sung midway through the meal and Psalms 115-118 at the very end of the meal.

If you have a chance, I’d really recommend going through the whole section of Scripture. For this post, I am going to focus just on this last Psalm; the last words Jesus may have sung before his death.

Can you picture it? The disciples and Jesus sitting in a dark, upper room, lit by candles. The feet of the disciples clean after Jesus washed them, their bellies full of food from the meal, blissfully not understanding what was coming. The group singing in unison these verses among many others, and Jesus taking it all in, gathering strength for the task that lay before him:

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever”

“The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

 “Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.”

“My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me.”

“I will not die; instead I will live to tell of what the Lord has done. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not let me die.”

“The Stone the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”

“This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

“Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

“The Lord is God, shining upon us. Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the alter.”

“You are my God, and I will exalt you.”

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever,”

I can’t quite describe the feeling I get when reading these verses.

I picture the crowds of people in Jerusalem, who not even a week prior to these events, had laid out their cloaks on the road before Jesus, shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” from this Psalm. That same crowd would shout “Crucify him!” just a few short hours after this meal.

I hear Peter in Acts 4, after the crucifixion and resurrection, pointing to this Psalm and preaching boldly that Jesus is that stone that has become the cornerstone.

I consider Jesus, knowing what was coming, taking solace and strength in the words of this song he would have sung with his family and friends every year at this time. I wonder if he had tears in his eyes as he gathered strength for the trial that lay ahead or if he was smiling the way you do when you are trying to soak in all of the moment.

I imagine God inspiring the Psalmist to write these very words of comfort and prophesy so many years before, all the while knowing that they would comfort the Son in the hour of need. I wonder how many lines were written for the people of Israel and how many lines were written specifically for Jesus in these moments.

I imagine God giving Moses specific instructions for the Passover, knowing that Christ Jesus would come to earth and, as fully God and fully man, would celebrate this feast, being comforted in the middle of a horrible battle. I think about the intentionality of God, grounding His people’s lives around holidays such as this that would prepare his people to recognize what He was doing through Christ, our Passover Lamb.

I think about the disciples, celebrating Passover the next year, and remembering it all; Hearing the Psalm with the veils lifted from their eyes and seeing the prophecy in it with such clear understanding.

So now, here is my answer to the question.

When I am about to die, if I have the opportunity, this will be my song:

“This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His faithful love endures forever”
Amen

What about you? What song would you sing?